Each week it looks like the Falcons have hit rock bottom. Another week, and the Falcons found a new, different shovel that could dig the team a little bit deeper. This week it was another collapse against the struggling one-win Arizona Cardinals.
Let’s look at what we learned other than this looks like another lost season.
Arthur Smith looks cooked
What a quick fall from grace as Smith’s offense appears to be heavily regressing despite both continuity and an infusion of new talent. In fact, Year 3 into a rebuild, and all phases of the game are plagued with ineffectiveness, penalties and sloppy play. The roster is rebuilt and the Falcons can’t come out ahead over some of the worst teams in the league.
Smith’s decisions have been frustrating, confusing and consistently inconsistent. Not only are fans frustrated with the team, but players look completely lost after losses. Smith looks completely overmatched and unable to both manage the team as head coach and the offense as the play caller. Smith can’t continue to stack bad losses while having no clear plan of turning around either this season or in the future.
The run game returns
Arthur Smith has been getting a lot of flack even outside of the Atlanta fanbase. National NFL reporters were pointing out a bunch of mind-blowing stats, like looking at Bijan Robinson’s incomprehensible usage both generally and in the red zone.
This week, Smith came out the door giving the rock to Robinson. Robinson finished with 23 offensive touches, making up 22 carries for 95 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 reception for 11 yards. Tyler Allgeier had a decent-enough 9 rushes for 31 yards and 1 reception for 7, and Cordarrelle Patterson got 3 rushes for 13 yards and 2 catches for 7 yards. Add it up and the Falcons rushed 34 times, with another 7 quarterback rushes.
It was a welcomed return to form where the Falcons were able to maintain the time of possession and get better consistency. The team is still flush with problems but at least it could run the ball.
The defense struggles without Jarrett and Onyemata — but still locking it up on third down
Grady Jarrett is, of course, out for the season. The last time he missed time was back in 2018 after the Falcons came off of a pretty good 2017. Once Jarrett was out, the defense was nothing more than wet tissue paper. We’re seeing that again, made even worse without Jarrett’s compadre David Onyemata. Despite some nice play in the secondary (not you, Richie Grant) and the linebackers, Kyler Murray had loads of time and James Conner had plenty of room to run.
The good news? Ryan Nielsen is seemingly a magician, allowing the Cardinals to convert a mere 3 out of 11 third downs. Something is working in there. Perhaps like Atlanta’s run game, not a lot is going right — but this is.
Only a few weeks back, the Falcons were struggling with finding competent play at returner. Finally, Mike Hughes was shuffled off of returns and things seemed to be looking so much better.
Until this week. Kick coverage fell apart when the Falcons held only a tissue-thin lead. Bad tackling and poor coverage allowed Greg Dortch to bring a punt back 49 yards. Atlanta’s defense gave up a touchdown only two plays later. Falcons lost by two points.
We’ll always have Heinicke’s second half against the Titans
Remember when there was that brief offensive spark? Two full games later and it isn’t clear why Heinicke was still playing. He’s been more protective with the ball than Desmond Ridder, but similar to Ridder, he does take too many sacks. The more important difference being Heinicke can’t move the ball and rarely wants to toss it deep. Heinicke has shown off his impressive arm a few times but Sunday’s game was the best example of how he fits in the run-first offense: poorly. He isn’t consistent enough to make a play when needed.
Drake London was back, Kyle Pitts is at full strength, Bijan Robinson took a lot of pressure off of Heinicke against an unimpressive Cardinals defense, and his stat line was 8/15 for 55 yards, 1 touchdown, and 3 sacks. Putrid from top to bottom, with Heinicke failing to complete a single pass over 10 yards.
Arthur Smith doesn’t like like the answer and neither does Heinicke.